By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University
Note: This article is part 2 of a two-part series on higher education.
In the first part of this article, I began an analogy, comparing the student path through higher education with the process of climbing a mountain.
Start a degree program at American Public University.
Progressing Past the Master’s Degree in Higher Education
When we left off, you had arrived at Base Camp 2, the master’s degree. Most everyone you began your climb with has hung up their climbing boots permanently. And all of your supporters at the bottom of the mountain are happy for your accomplishments.
But something is still calling to you. Again, you look up at the mountain and wonder what lies ahead. You’ve heard that some have continued successfully, but it’s a very difficult climb and very few people succeed in going any further. You consult with others from Base Camp 2, and again, there is a mix of support for your further ambitions and skepticism as to why anyone would ever want to go higher.
You look down toward Base Camp 1 and the bottom of the mountain. Everyone is extremely happy for you, but when they realize you’re considering continuing on up the mountain they begin to scratch their heads. Why would you want to do that to yourself? It’s hard and dangerous, and you’ve already accomplished so much. What is to be gained from going higher?
Against the consensus of sentiment from onlookers, you decide to continue. Two other climbers from the group of 13 with whom you arrived at Base Camp 2 decide to join you. At this point, the reality of how few of you are left from the original 100 you started with is sobering and a bit intimidating. But again, you summon your courage and step out into the headwind.
After a climb so difficult that on several occasions it nearly convinces you to quit, you and your two other comrades finally arrive at Base Camp 3, the doctorate degree. There are very few people at Base Camp 3 to greet you, but they are nonetheless happy to welcome you into their ranks.
Down below, your supporters are filled with such immense pride at seeing you reach what most people believe is the highest point a climber can reach on the mountain. You take your place in the distinguished halls of climbing fame as an elite member. Only two to three percent of all climbers ever make it to Base Camp 3.
It’s your first night at Base Camp 3, and everyone is snoring peacefully. But you can’t sleep. A tiny voice — faint but constant and impossible to ignore — still beckons. You throw on your coat and step out of your tent to get some fresh air. The cold wind chills your face. Standing there in the dark, you try to quiet your mind, but you find your gaze again being drawn upward. A dark, cloudy mist shrouds the mountain above, and it is impossible to see beyond a few hundred feet.
You’ve heard of one or two people who have wandered off that way, but it’s so rare that almost no one has attempted it. You, however, know one thing for sure: You haven’t reached the summit. There’s more mountain up there.
You consult your fellow Base Camp 3 colleagues. No one is coming with you this time. They admire your tenacity, they say. But if you decide to take on this challenge, you’ll do it alone. At this point, you’re so high up the mountain you can’t even see the bottom, but you’re quite sure that when the onlookers find out that you’re thinking about going even higher, they will probably want to have you committed to an insane asylum.
But their attempts to dissuade you didn’t work before, and they won’t work now. You lace up your boots, don your rucksack and head off once more, this time alone.
Achieving the Doctoral Degree and Other Higher Education Goals
As you depart Base Camp 3, a part of you wonders: how much further it is to the summit? How many more steps to the top? What might you encounter and learn along the way? As challenging as this climb is, a part of you hopes that you will never reach the top — that there is always a new obstacle to overcome, a new milestone to conquer and a new lesson to learn in the process.
That’s the beauty of higher education and the reason why I’ve been taking college classes non-stop for 16 years. With each new program and each new class, I’ve learned things that have broadened my knowledge and skills. I am constantly challenged in new ways, and each time I have to find the ingenuity and resolve to overcome those challenges.
This experience has been, and continues to be, a transformational, character-building adventure. And when I think about the fact that, even if I live to be 200, I will never learn all there is to learn or achieve in terms of education, I’m not saddened. I’m inspired. Because that means this quest for knowledge will be a lifelong endeavor without a premature termination. The mountain will, in a sense, be like a companion that never leaves my side. I’ll be able to climb and scale ever higher until my very last breath. And that challenge is indescribably compelling.
Why is climbing that mountain ever higher so compelling, you ask? Because it’s there.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.